The title of Duke of Edinburgh was first created for Frederick Louis, the eldest son and heir of the future King George II. Despite the fact that Frederick Louis had previously been known as the 'Duke of Gloucester' almost since birth (a title which was never formally created), on the 26th July 1726 he was awarded the titles of Baron of Snowdon, Viscount of Launceston, Earl of Eltham, Marquess of the Isle of Ely and Duke of Edinburgh. (Although Frederick was actually created 'Duke of Edenburgh', which was the preferred spelling at the time.)
When his father became king in 1727, as heir apparent to the throne Frederick Louis automatically became Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay and was therefore known under those titles until he became Prince of Wales in 1729. He is therefore generally known to history as
Frederick Louis Hanover, Prince of Wales, and scarcely as the Duke of Edinburgh which was only briefly applicable in the period 1726-1727.
However, Frederick Louis predeceased his father on the 20th March 1751, at which point the titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay reverted to the crown (as they can only now be held by the eldest son of the monarch), whilst the title of Duke of Edinburgh together with its subsidiary titles were inherited by his son George. George, Duke of Edinburgh was invested as Prince of Wales shortly after his father's death in 1751, and was therefore generally known as the Prince of Wales before he acceded as George III in 1760 when, of course his titles merged with the crown.
Four years later George III granted the dignity of Edinburgh to his younger brother William Henry Hanover, when he was created Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh. William Henry is however generally known simply as the Duke of Gloucester as was his son and successor William Frederick who became the 2nd Duke in 1805, but died without heirs in 1834 at which point his titles became extinct.
Some thirty years later the title was revived in favour of Alfred Ernest Albert, the second son of Queen Victoria who was created Earl of Ulster, Earl of Kent and Duke of Edinburgh on the 24th May 1866. Alfred Ernest had earlier missed out on an even highter dignity having been previously been offered the throne of Greece following the deposition of Otto in 1862. Apparently he won the approval of 95% of the Greek electorate in a plebiscite on the matter but the British Government ordered him to decline the Greek throne.
Alfred therefore occupied himself with a naval career, during which he circumnavigated the globe, visited Australia where he survived an assassination attempt and later travelled to both India and Hong Kong. Having risen to the rank of Admiral of the Fleet on the 3rd June 1893 he was soon forced to abandon the Royal Navy, as with the death of his uncle, Ernest II on the 22nd August 1893, he succeeded as Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the duties of which occupied most of his time until his death on the 30th July 1900.
On the 23rd January 1874 Alfred married Marie Alexandrovna Romanov, only daughter of Alexander II, Emperor of Russia. The marriage produced one son named Alfred, who unfortunately died unmarried on the 6th February 1899. Hence with Alfred's death a year later the title of Duke of Edinburgh became extinct whilst the duchy of Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, passed to his nephew the Duke of Albany.
The current holder of the title is of course, HRH Prince Philip, who turns out to be a man of many names as although his father Prince Andrew of Greece originally bore the name of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, Philip was baptised with the name of Philip Battenberg, and on the 28th February 1947 legally changed his name to Philip Mountbatten, which was the surname adopted by his maternal grandfather the Marquess of Milford Haven in 1917.
Largely educated in England, Philip joined the Royal Navy
in 1939 and served in World War II
. By 1952 he had reached the rank of Commander
before he was forced to abandon his naval career for more pressing duties.
In July 1947 the formal engagement of Philip Mountbatten to Princess Elizabeth was announced, as a result of which Philip was created Baron Greenwich
, Earl of Merioneth
and Duke of Edinburgh on the 20th November 1947 the day on which he also married to the Princess Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey. With the death of George VI in 1952 the Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth II with Philip when he formally took on the role of prince consort
The future of the title
On the 19th June 1999 Prince Edward married Edward Sophie Rhys-Jones and was also created the Earl of Wessex. By way of explanation as to why Edward had not received a dukedom as is customary for the sons of reigning monarchs, it was announced that;
The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales have also agreed that The Prince Edward should be given the Dukedom of Edinburgh in due course, when the present title now held by Prince Philip eventually reverts to the Crown.
Since the Letters Patent issued in 1947 specify the standard remainder of "heirs male of his body lawfully begotten" it is anticipated that the title of Duke of Edinburgh will eventually pass into the hands of Prince Charles and merge with the crown when he thereafter succeeds to the throne if he isn't already king at that particular time. However, it is not absolutely certain that the title will merge in the Crown. It is possible, if somewhat unlikely, that if both Prince Charles and his eldest son Prince William predecease Charles' mother but not their father and William dies leaving only a daughter, for the crown to pass to William's daughter whilst the Edinburgh peerage title passes to the next male heir in line, who would quite likely be someone other than Prince Edward.
But in all likelihood we can expect a new creation of the title in favour of the current Earl of Wessex at some point in the future.
THE DUKES OF EDINBURGH
Creation of 1726 as Duke of Edenburgh
Creation of 1764 as Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh
- Alfred Ernest Albert, Duke of Edinburgh (1866-1900)
- alt.talk.royalty FAQ at www.heraldica.org/faqs/britfaq.html
- A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain at www.thepeerage.com
- The Peerages of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom at http://www.angeltowns.com/town/peerage/Peers.htm
- Charles Arnold Baker The Companion to British History (Longcross Press, 1996)